Surrounded by His Linemen, Bugel Finds the Strength to Go On

By Mike Wise
Sunday, October 12, 2008

The door down the hall from Joe Bugel's office in Ashburn almost never opens when the Washington Redskins' offensive linemen convene. The meeting room is their sanctuary, a place where the largest of NFL players learn, bond and grow.

So when Jim Zorn poked his head in on the morning of Aug. 21, they feared the worst.

"Buges, your wife is on the phone -- and it is serious," the head coach said.

For two years Bugel knew this day would come, since he learned he and his wife's second of three daughters had been stricken with an aggressive and rare form of bone cancer -- osteosarcoma -- in the summer of 2006. But he still wasn't ready to hear Holly was gone, less than two weeks after her 36th birthday.

"Brenda was more prepared," the offensive line coach said this past week in his office. "She saw her when she went in and from when she got the shoulder and arm amputated. When the doctor let us know she'd run out of all kind of care, and it's in [the] hospice's hands right now, you just don't ever see that day comin', you know."

After getting off the phone with Brenda that morning, he went back, red-eyed, to a room full of 6-foot-6, 300-plus-pound men, who did the only humanly thing possible.

"We sat together," center Casey Rabach said. "We cried. We hugged. We were there for him."

"At that point, everybody rallied around him, said, 'We love ya, do what you gotta do, and we'll see you when you're ready,' " tackle Jon Jansen said.

He added: "I tried to think what I would do in a situation like that or how I would handle it, and I can't even make myself think about it. Because how can you think about or talk about one of your children passing?"

When we think of big in pro football, we think of strong. Strong enough to pile-drive a defender backward, strong enough to withstand incredible amounts of physical pain.

But sometimes being big and strong in the NFL means cradling a 68-year-old man in those large arms, sobbing just as hard as him, because Buges is family, meaning his daughter was family.

"The friends I have in life are the players I've coached," Bugel said. "I'm not afraid to tell the guys I love them."

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